The first series of the Fargo TV show was not supposed to work. No-one, not least fans of the original film, expected this shameless rehash of the Coen brothers’ cult classic to translate into a fulfilling TV drama. It just wasn’t going to happen.
And yet, somehow, it did. With the help of Billy Bob Thornton (sporting one heck of a bowl cut) and Martin Freeman’s Faustian tale of the Devil and his unwitting underling, Noah Hawley’s Fargo was a brilliant, brooding miniseries that defied expectations to become one of the most talked about shows of 2014.
Now returning to blood-splattered, folksy Minnesota for another tale of evil lurking in the most ordinary of places, series two may just be even better.
If you’re a Fargo fan you may recall Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson, this year’s Marge Gunderson, was a key character in series one: He was the grizzled diner owner (then played by Keith Carradine) who gave cryptic hints about a horrific happening back in the late 70s.
And that’s exactly where we find ourselves this time out. It’s 1979 – an era of Vietnam, Watergate and huge recession, and Lou’s youthful incarnation is an average-Joe state patrolman who stumbles into an escalating gang war when he investigates a gruesome shootout at the local feeding hole.
Hawley has kept much of the flavour and style of the first series, with awkward, small-town vernacular, snowy landscapes, quirky, homespun characters and juicy moral dilemmas all returning to form the meat of the story.
At the same time, the writer-director has also added a fresh verve to the familiar by allowing the 70s influences to pour into the visuals. The beige dress code and dodgy facial hair aside, split screens, wipe outs and a fierce electric soundtrack all help to give the series a distinctive rhythm.
Meanwhile, a score that eerily references monster movies of the era works excellently to create an air of conspiracy and mistrust that perfectly reflects the mood of the people during the period.
Crucially, Hawley continues with his unique take on the crime drama trope by focusing on how innocent, ordinary lives are changed irrevocably when violence is suddenly thrust upon them. There are shades of Lester Nygaard’s journey in the way young couple Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) are sucked into a world of crime when their quiet domesticity is disrupted by the arrival of murderer Rye Gerhardt (Kieren Culkin) – crumpled and bloodied on the bonnet of Peggy’s car.
Fans of the first series will no doubt remember how Hawley favours a slow burn approach to storytelling – the diner scene is a master class in building suspense – before striking with a sudden burst of brutal violence, but it’s immediately obvious in this first episode that the show is far more assured this time around.
Last series’ extended opener took its time to fully introduce Martin Freeman’s character, but Hawley shows no such patience here, despatching the inciting murder early on before spending the rest of the episode setting up a sprawling cast of significant players (including Ted Danson’s white-bearded sheriff).
The result is a show that feels grander and ready to shine on a more epic scale, which only serves to make the anticipation surrounding the rest of the series that much more enticing.
As Nick Offerman’s intensely paranoid conspiracy theorist at one point remarks: “Just watch, this thing’s only getting bigger.” And this time, he may just be onto something.
Click here to watch a trailer for Fargo, Series 2